Friday, October 17, 2014

Cure (1997)

Kiyoshi Kurosawa is a Japanese director I’ve had on my radar for a long time now. I’ve seen a couple of his movies and they were very intriguing. In many ways he reminds me of David Lynch. He has a very strong visual style, knows how to use sound to add and develop atmosphere, he doesn’t rely on plot, but rather on themes and visuals to carry the viewer along. His films take their time building toward a climax. I enjoyed the two films I’d seen previously, but I felt I was missing something. So I decided to go back to the film where Kurosawa really made a name for himself.

There appears to be a serial killer on the loose. Several people have been found murdered with a large X carved into their body, severing both major blood vessels in the neck. Sometimes this was the cause of death; sometimes this was done after the fact. But the most puzzling element to the case is the simple fact that no clear connection can be found among this wide variety of victims. Detective Takabe (Koji Yakusho) is finding it incredibly frustrating. At home things aren’t any better for him. His wife Fumie (Anna Nakagawa) is suffering from a mental illness that causes her to forget where she is and react to him in confusing and contradictory ways.

A break in the case comes when a strange young man (Masato Hagiwara) is found near the scene of one of the murders. He has no memory of his name, his life or even what question someone asked seconds ago. Instead of answering questions, he constantly questions others with the simple phrase, “Who are you?” The more detective Takabe interacts with this young man the more convinced he becomes that the young man is somehow causing these murders to occur. Takabe’s physiologist friend Sakuma (Tsuyoshi Ujiki) warns him not to get in too deep. But Takabe is convinced he may have found a Cure to the illness that plagues this city, but it may turn out that the medicine is more bitter than he expects.

Good Points:
  • Kurosawa sets a mood of impending dread that builds over the film
  • Koji Yakusho does an amazing job in his role
  • Filled with layered symbolism and themes

Bad Points:
  • The narrative is fuzzy at best
  • Images, sound, atmosphere and theme take over the film
  • I’m still not sure if there is a solution to this puzzle film

This is an intriguing film, showing off some masterful skills with camera work, sound effects, editing and mood. Even with the obtuse plot, Yakusho delivers in his role as the frustrated detective who may be losing his mind (or maybe not). Make no mistake, the answers do not come easily in this film, but there is a method to the madness. If this sounds intriguing to you, definitely check it out. I found it a wonderful exercise in building and executing dread.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 5
Sound: 5
Acting: 4
Script: 4
Music: 3
Direction: 5
Entertainment: 4
Total:  5

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review. 


  1. We like explanations in life and we often manufacture them after an event: this happened because I said this or she did that. Always those explanations are simplified and often they simply are wrong, but they comfort us somehow. Accordingly, we tend to make movies that provide explanations -- sufficient ones, anyway, if not full ones. Some writers/directors, though, succeed at the trick of keeping everything mysterious while not losing the audience, but it requires a deft touch. I haven't seen this one, but kudos if Kurosawa pulled it off.

    1. Yes, the more I ponder this film, the more I think the I know what the whole thing means. It definitely warrants a second viewing, in light of the seeing the complete film and knowing where he is going with it. This is very much a mood movie, and the mood is one of malaise and decay - not the kind of thing I often feel like experiencing. But I get the feeling I'll revisit this one again, maybe flesh out my thought more in this review. Some of the imagery in the film is quite interesting and the whole thing stays with you after you've seen it (and I've had the same experience with his other two films "Retribution" and "Pulse").

  2. I wondered if you felt cheated by the ending? I don't mind that some films might have an enigmatic ending like No Country for Old Men, but it seemed like there were a lot of folks that hated it for that reason. I found it rather puzzling as it wasn't that enigmatic and sort of had a conclusion, granted you had to work at it a bit.

    The comparison to David Lynch is apt. Again he's not for everyone, and I don't think everything he's done works satisfactory, but I respect him for taking chances, and staying away from formula and approaching film as art.

    There are a few films though that drive me a bit batty, and for the same reasons above. Either they don't click with me, or I just don't agree with the director's approach to things, or I just don't understand them or what they were trying to say. It's a subjective thing, I guess.

    1. I didn't feel cheated by the ending to "Cure". But I admit, I was left puzzled. The thing is, the whole movie feels like it is leading up to a revelation. An event occurs, it obviously has meaning for the characters. The way the climax is shot and executed with sound and acting resonates with me. I feel like something major just clicked. But the symbolism didn't quite lock with me. There is an epilogue of sorts that adds to the whole film and gives you more insight. But after the film was done (and when I wrote this review) I admit I didn't quite grasp the whole thing. But the more I've mulled on it and revisited some of the themes in my head, I think I see where Kurosawa was going.

      Frankly, I love movies like this. Movies that make me think and explore beyond what they present on the surface are so rare. I love the challenge and the mystery of it. However, there is a line between just being weird to be weird, and knowing how to use film's other qualities (beyond dialogue) to get your point across. Both Lynch and Kurosawa do this. The movies aren't just random surreal moments strung together. Each element is carefully selected and put together. There is a dream logic to these films - a logic deeper and more elemental than the surface. That feeling is something I love.

      But sometimes they get a bit too obtuse, and that can be frustrating. I'll admit, Kurosawa is right there. I feel like I'm missing a key to unlock everything he is trying to express. But he is trying to express something - that is the big difference. You could argue that he isn't successful because he isn't communicating clearly. But at the same time, I don't think he is going for complete clarity. I think that is part of his message, actually.

      Anyway, I'm getting a bit babble-y. I completely understand when folks don't like Lynch or Kurosawa. My wife is not a huge Lynch fan, because he often gets too dark for her liking. One of my favorite reviewers just ... "hates with a white hot passion" what Lynch does to his films. We agree to disagree on that. ;)

  3. I guess so Roman-- If life can contain a certain amount of mystery and enigma, why can't movies as well? Most movies want to end with a pat ending, and that seems to be what audiences like as well, perhaps that's a part of our human nature to have order in our lives, control. But when each of us pass on, aren't there still details left hanging up in the air, not everything is revealed and entirely known about us, some incidents that people or family don't know, bills unpaid, fears, aspirations, and so forth.